At least 159 people were killed in a magnitude 6.2 earthquake that struck central Italy early Wednesday as most residents were sleeping in their homes.
Officials say the towns of Amatrice and Accumoli appear to be the hardest hit by the quake, which struck at 3:36 a.m. local time.
Workers today searched for residents buried under the rubble of collapsed homes and buildings.
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Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who said he plans to travel today to the affected area, thanked the rescue workers and vowed a sustained national effort to find any survivors and assist the injured and homeless.
“No family, no city, no hamlet will be left alone,” he said.
Emergency responders are facing power outages and ruptured gas lines.
U.S. citizen Michael Gilroy was with his girlfriend on the second floor of a three-story hotel in the town of Montepulciano when the quake hit.
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“It was just before 4:00 in the morning,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “We gathered our stuff and ran out as quickly as we could with everyone else.”
“On the way out, we saw a pretty big chandelier swaying from side to side and I think that’s when we knew for sure,” Gilroy added.
Gilroy said the destruction was devastating in Montepulciano, which is nestled atop a hill in southern Tuscany. He and his girlfriend have since left the town for Rome.
“It looks like there are multiple homes that have come down completely into the roads,” he said. “These roads are very, very narrow, and the homes are built on top of each other, and they’re all brick, and when they come down, there’s not a lot of space in between.”
The U.S. State Department is not aware of any U.S. citizen casualties, a State Department official said, adding that the U.S. Embassy is working to verify the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens in the area.
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Tremors were felt as far away as Rome, more than 100 miles from the quake’s epicenter.
In the town of Amatrice, the damage was so extensive that Mayor Sergio Pirozzi said, “The town isn’t here anymore,” The Associated Press reported.
The quake was felt across four regions of central Italy: Lazio, Umbria, Abruzzo and Marche.
The central Apennine region, a mountainous area of central Italy, has had several significant temblors, according to the USGS.
In April 2009, a 6.3 magnitude quake near the town of L’Aquila killed at least 295 people, injured more than 1,000 and left at least 55,000 homeless.
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In September 1997, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake in the area killed 11 people and injured more than 100, destroying approximately 80,000 homes in the Marche and Umbria regions.
On January 13, 1915, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake near Avezzano killed approximately 32,000 people